Legalises three unsanctioned West Bank outposts

The United States on Tuesday raised concern with ally Israel over a decision to legalise three settler outposts, calling the move unhelpful to making peace with the Palestinians.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated Washington's opposition to settlement activity on the West Bank and said the United States asked Israel, through its embassy in Tel Aviv, for “clarification”.

“We are obviously concerned,” Ms. Nuland told reporters.

Israel legalised three unsanctioned West Bank settler outposts and was trying to save another, infuriating the Palestinians as the chief American West Asia envoy was in the region labouring to revive peace efforts.

The Israeli government's formulation of its decision was that it was “formalising the status” of Sansana, Bruchin and Rehalim, three longstanding enclaves that are home to hundreds of Jewish settlers.

A government official denied they were outposts, insisting their establishment was authorised by previous Israeli Cabinets. He said Monday night's decision merely addressed technical and procedural issues and did not change the situation on the ground.

Despite the claim, two of the enclaves, Bruchin and Rehalim, were identified as unauthorised outposts in a 2005 government report. The Netanyahu government has reopened that report, saying the objectivity of its author, the then state prosecutor, Talia Sasson, is now in question because she later joined an anti-settlement political party.

The official also acknowledged the third enclave, Sansana, was supposed to have been built within Israel proper.

Suspicions

The legalisation decision fuelled suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline coalition would try to legalise as many rogue settlement sites as possible to cement Israel's hold on occupied land the Palestinians claim for a state.

Mr. Netanyahu faces stiff pressure from pro-settler hardliners within his own coalition to fend off legal challenges to the unauthorised construction. Some hardliners have even warned that the coalition, which until now has been remarkably stable, could unravel over the issue. Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as the core of their hoped-for state, and see all Israeli settlement as illegal encroachment on those lands.

They have refused to restart peace talks until construction halts.

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